Money Management Q&As

January 5, 2007

Probating a home; long-term care policies; charitable donations

Probating a home in another state

My wife and I live in Maine but vacation in a lakeside Florida home that I own. Will the home go through probate in both estates when I die?

No; since you're the sole owner the house will go through probate in Florida only, even though you live in Maine. If you decide to make your wife or someone else a joint owner, the house will pass directly to that person and skip probate entirely. But make the change promptly, so you don't forget and neglect to do it.

I'm shopping for long-term-care insurance. What objective sources of information can help me compare policies and insurance company ratings?

Unfortunately, there's no easy way to compare policies. The AARP recently studied this issue and noted that the complexity of LTC policies, the tremendous variation in features and benefits, and the shortage of independent guidance make it very difficult for consumers (or even professionals) to make valid comparisons.

However, try consulting the Eldercare Locator ( http://www.eldercare.gov; 800-677-1116), a service of the US Administration on Aging. It can direct you to state and local agencies on aging, which may have helpful information or contacts.

Also check with your state's department of insurance to see if it offers a buyer's guide, comparisons of the rates that LTC insurers in your state would charge for sample policies, or both. You'll find a link to your department's website at http://www.naic.org/state_web_map.htm.

TheStreet.com ( http://www.thestreet.com/ratings) may prove the most useful source of company-strength ratings information. It reviews about 1,700 life, health, and annuity companies; doesn't accept compensation from them for its ratings; and has a reputation for issuing early warnings about troubled firms. But you'll pay $14.99 for each online company rating and $19 per telephone request.

When donating goods, consider their quality

I want to donate some clothing to a local shelter. How do I figure out, and back up, my charitable deduction?

It'll likely be more difficult to do, because of recent changes in the charitable donation rules. First, the IRS can deny deductions for clothing and household items that have minimal value, such as socks or undergarments. And you can deduct the value of more expensive belongings only if they're in good condition or better. An exception applies for items worth at least $500: You can deduct the full value, regardless of condition, as long as you include a qualified appraisal-and a receipt from the charity-with your 2006 tax return. If your deduction exceeds $500 you'll also have to file Form 8283 (Noncash Charitable Contributions).

Do you have a money management question that may be stumping other doctors, too? Write: MMQA Editor, Medical Economics, 123 Tice Blvd., Suite 300, Woodcliff Lake, NJ 07677-7664, or send an e-mail to memoney@advanstar.com (please include your regular postal address). Sorry, but we're not able to answer readers individually.